All in the details
This story was featured in the June 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
Light, shadow, mood, and drama— these are a few of Roberta Combs’ favorite artistic elements. For the Canadian artist, painting is more about them and less about subject matter. Hence the variety of genres in her oeuvre. In fact, whether a painting depicts tomatoes, toddlers, or tea roses, Combs considers them all portraits. “I want to convey a feeling that each still-life object or tree commands the same presence and importance as a person might and deserves the same spotlight,” she says. “I also want a cohesive relationship and harmony in the composition that has an interesting narrative.”
A dedicated pastelist, Combs is attracted to the medium’s vibrant color and velvety texture. But as a photorealist concerned with getting details right, pastel can present challenges. Take PEACH PEAR TANGO, a quintessential Combs work. Warm orange-colored peaches and clear glass objects are set against a vivid blue-and-white striped tablecloth. Combs points out that the stripes required exceptional accuracy and patience because the whites had to be clean, not smudged. Lines had to be straight while the folds and wrinkles had to seem casually natural.
As usual, this Combs tableaux suggests a narrative. “I treat my still lifes as group portraits,” she says. “Here we see the central peach enticing the aloof pear, while the glasses and the other peach are keenly interested spectators.”
Combs tends to favor still-life and figurative works. In both, she is intrigued by light patterns. She views objects as collectors of light and reflections, and figurative paintings as captured moments, such as in INSIDE OUT, a portrait of her daughter. “The wonderful attic light turned her skin to rich, dramatic tones and her white nightgown into a challenge of creases and shades,” Combs says. “The contrast of the cool outside scene emphasized the warmth of the cozy room.”
It’s for paintings like PEACH PEAR TANGO and INSIDE OUT that Combs has received master status with the Pastel Society of America and also garnered numerous awards. She studied with Alan Wylie, a Canadian artist whom she considers her mentor. Her work is currently on view in group exhibitions presented by the Pastel Artists Canada, the Northwest Pastel Society, and the International Association of Pastel Societies. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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